One of the side-effects of reading reviews on-line is that it allows you to quickly and impulsively add things to your library reserve list that you normally wouldn’t. That’s what happened with Melanie Gideon’s debut novel Wife 22, a novel that’s best described as “chick lit.” And while the novel just check off many of the boxes that make for “chick lit,” I still don’t feel much guilt for having spent the time reading and (gasp!) enjoying it!
Well, at least the first three quarters of the novel. (More on that in later in the review so I don’t ruin things for anyone!)
Alice and William Buckle are getting ready to celebrate twenty years of marriage with their two children Zoe and Peter. On the outside, they seem to have a fairly ideal marriage, but deep down Alice is feeling a bit of loneliness and discontent. When Alice is approached by an on-line survey about her marriage, she readily agrees and is assigned the identity of Wife 22. Assigned to Researcher 101, the two maintain an anonymous, on-line relationship that begins professionally enough but soon lines get blurred as Alice delves into her meeting and marrying William, the current state of their marriage and her concerns about their children (she fears Zoe has an eating disorder and that Peter is in the closet). As the two grow closer, Alice finds herself getting closer and closer to a decision that could rock her marriage and her world.
Typing that last paragraph, I realize just how incredibly “chick lit” that sounds, but I’ll give first-time author Melanie Gideon a lot of credit for making this book something more. The chapters are kept short and we’re treated to Alice’s responses to the marriage survey (though the questions aren’t revealed in the chapters, they are included at the end of the book if you want to take a peek), her correspondence with Researcher 101 and first-person accounts of events unfolding now in Alice’s life. Gideon makes Alice a compelling, complex and interesting character who even though she’s cheating on her husband (at least emotionally) is still conflicted enough that you still have some sympathy for her.
The novel moves along at a good clip as Alice and Researcher 101 slowly reveal more and more about themselves to each other and getting closer and closer as she and William drift further apart.
Of course, this all leads to a decision for both of Alice and the Researcher. Should they meet in person and what will the results be?
It’s a this point that Wife 22 begins to collapse a bit under its own weight. A lot of this could be that I put two and two together and figure out the secret identity of Researcher 101 long before Alice or anyone else in the novel does. It leads to a bit of the zest being take out of the final unveiling of the secret identity, though Gideon keeps those moments mercifully short and doesn’t allow the story or Alice to dwell on them too long.
And yet I can’t say the twist is a bad thing. It makes sense from a character standpoint and it allows the novel to end on a happy note for everyone involved. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. It just seemed a bit too obvious to the observant reader and, thus, took some of the momentum out of the last third of the novel.
That doesn’t mean that Wife 22 is necessarily a bad book. It’s a good book that could have been more.